Albert Pujols: A Moment of Appreciation For One Of the Greatest Players of Our Time and All Time

from Wokandapix on Pixabay

As a lifelong baseball fan, I have had the great joy of watching a lot of incredible players through the years. The vast majority of the players that have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, going back to 2000, I can remember watching games featuring these greats. Going back even further, I can remember having baseball cards with the likeness of these baseball immortals upon them.

I remember rooting for the A’s in the 1988 World Series and being disappointed when they lost to the Dodgers. My first World Series television memory is turning on a game in 1989 only to see that it was cancelled because of a massive earthquake in the Bay Area.

As a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I can remember watching players like Ozzie Smith and Dennis Eckersley wearing the birds on the bat. For years, I remember the annual disbelief and disappointment that Lee Smith was overlooked (a mistake that is finally being corrected this year; how can you have the all time saves leader, at the time of his retirement, NOT in the HoF?!)

And, in 2001, I remember thinking during the opening salvo to the season that this rookie, who had just gone 7–14 in Arizona (only the second series of his career) could be pretty good if they could just find a position for him and let him play.

It was to be the first season of ten to begin his career where Albert Pujols would hit .300 with at least 30 HR, 100 RBI and 30 2B.

During his 11 seasons in St. Louis, Pujols would win Rookie of the Year in 2001, NL MVP in 2005, 2008 and 2009 (finishing 2nd four times), be named to 9 All Star games and win the World Series in 2006 and 2011. Oh, and there’s the batting title he won in 2003 with a .359 average; not bad for a slugger who has hit 40+ HR seven times. Not to mention the two Gold Gloves in 2006 and 2010.

He has also won the Roberto Clemente Award (2008) for sportsmanship and community involvement. The Hank Aaron Award (2003, 2009) as the best hitter in the League. And the Lou Gehrig Award (2009) for character and integrity.

Pujols was also named NL Player of the Month six times, and Player of the Week eleven times during his tenure with St. Louis. Outside of one Player of the Month and one Player of the Week award, Pujols’ accolades have all come in a Cardinal uniform.

Like all Cardinal fans, I was heartbroken when he left to play with the Angels after the 2011 season. He was already one of the greatest players of his generation, and he wasn’t done yet. Sure, there was a sense that he was on the decline, but when you start from Olympus, you have some time before you hit the bottom.

This season, for the first time since 2011, Albert will be suiting up in Busch Stadium as the Angels visit June 21–23. I hope and trust the fans will have moved on from the hurt of seeing him go elsewhere and that he will receive the ovation he deserves when he arrives. Most of the fans in St. Louis are smart, and they recognize greatness, even when it’s from a competitor.

Had he stayed in St. Louis, Albert Pujols would be the stuff of legends by now. His greatness would not go unnoticed. Can you imagine the hysteria that would be surrounding his accomplishments in the midst of Cardinal nation? As it is right now, Pujols is getting overshadowed not only by Mike Trout (his teammate who is absolutely deserving of the attention), but by the crosstown Dodgers, who have been the National League representatives in the World Series for two years running.

In recent years, Pujols has joined elite company: 3,000 hits and 600 HR. Very few people belong to those exclusive clubs. In fact, only three have crossed both thresholds: Alex Rodriguez, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Notice a name that is missing? Babe Ruth. Barry Bonds. Names that you will find at or near the top of best players lists all over the place, and even they haven’t accomplished what Pujols has to this point in his career.

As if that isn’t impressive enough, if we were to take the average of his last 5 seasons, we could guess Pujols would end up with: 147 hits, 96 RBI, 23 2B, 28 HR, and 255 total bases. Now, I realize that may be a stretch, depending primarily on his health more than anything, but baseball is a game of projected hope. So, indulge me here.

IF he were to put up those numbers, at the end of the season, Pujols would be sitting at:

3,229 hits, passing the likes of George Brett, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, and moving into 14th place all time

2,078 RBI, eclipsing Gehrig and Bonds to become only the 4th person in history with 2,000 RBI, joining Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

662 doubles, passing Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie And Carl Yastrzemski, claiming the #7 spot.

5,907 total bases, which would lead him past Pete Rose, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, and Ty Cobb, putting him in 5th place.

And 661 HR, passing Willie Mays.

Pujols is already firmly entrenched in the #2 spot all time for intentional walks with Bonds (688) having more than double his 310. He is also 6th all time in extra base hits, only 35 behind Mays in that category.

Do you see the names on these lists? These are all time great players, and Pujols is right there with them, even ahead of some.

The 2000’s have been a time of intense controversy and scrutiny, especially for power hitters who were doing things that nobody had done before. I know that we want to ignore Bonds and ARod on these all times lists because of their involvement in PED scandals — Bonds has long been suspected, though has never tested positive; ARod served a suspension, sitting out the entire 2014 season. Regardless, their names are on the lists. Pete Rose, while permanently banned from baseball, is still it’s all time hits leader.

However, there are no such suspicions attached to Pujols. There was an accusation in 2013 by Jack Clark, retired slugger and radio host in St. Louis, but it was nothing more than a terrible rumor.

It would be easy for us to forget the greatness that Pujols showed during his time in St. Louis. Since going to the Angels, he has struggled to stay healthy at times, and has had his “worst” seasons (which are still better than a lot of players).

I think people would, generally speaking, agree that right now Mike Trout, Pujols’ teammate on the Angels, is the best player in baseball. How does the beginning of Trout’s career compare to the beginning of Pujols’? It doesn’t.

When you compare the first seven seasons of Pujols’ time in St. Louis with the first seven seasons of Trout’s career, Pujols has 54 more runs, 157 more hits, 295 more total bases, 74 more doubles, 42 more home runs, 213 more RBI, 34 more intentional walks, 546 fewer strikeouts, a batting average that is 24 points higher, and only twice has Trout eclipsed Pujols’ average OPS (1.051) during this stretch.

None of this is intended to bring down Trout, mind you. But rather, to remind us all of the greatness that is Albert Pujols.

When the most recent Hall of Fame voting took place, there was a lot of talk leading up to the reveal of this year’s inductees that Mariano Rivera should receive 100% of the votes (and he did) because he was so dominate during his time with the Yankees. Likewise, Pujols should receive similar conversation when it is his time.

Putting up the numbers that he has put up, being the upstanding citizen in the community, and not being attached to the game’s worst scandals should be enough to give Pujols a similar outcome. After all, Ken Griffey, Jr. received 99.3% of the vote, and Pujols has surpassed his numbers.

I can’t quite put my finger on what brought about this walk down memory lane for me. Perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic for baseball after watching Ken Burns’ documentary. Perhaps I’m ready for the season to start. Perhaps it’s just good to remember the great players you got to see play in person. I’ve seen a lot of great players — both in person and on television.

My first Major League game was in St. Louis, as my dad and I watched Pujols, lead the Cardinals in a 13–2 thumping of the Cubs. For my bachelor party in 2002, my friends and I went to St. Louis to watch the Cardinals play Barry Bonds and the Giants. I’ve been glared at (at least, that’s my story of what happened) by Roger Clemens at a game in Houston.

I remember watching Pedro Martinez pitch for the first time and being amazed at the movement on his fastball. I saw Cal Ripken, Jr. take a lap around Camden Park on a magical night in 1995. I cheered as Mark McGwire hit his weakest home run of the year for #62 in a game against the Cubs in 1998.

I sat mesmerized as Pujols demolished Rangers pitching in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series while my friend in Arlington texted me, wondering what in the hell was going on as Pujols blasted his 3rd home run of the night. And then I paced the basement in my house late into the night during Game 6, the greatest World Series game in history in my Cardinal fan opinion.

The great thing about baseball is that you never know if you are going to see something amazing when the game begins. And only rarely do you realize that you are watching greatness unfold right before your eyes. Pujols, however, was a player that I knew I had to watch. As his career has unfolded, I can honestly say that I have watched one of the greatest players in baseball history take the field, wear the Birds on the Bat and bring awe to millions.

Just some guy who is looking to make my pocket of the world a better place. Life is a journey; let’s walk together and help each other along the way.

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